'Survivor' Castaway on Boston Rob and Sandra's Trial By Fire: "It Was Mission Basically Impossible"

SURVIVOR Island of Idols -Honesty Would Be Chill-Sandra Diaz-Twine and Boston Rob Mariano - Publicity -H  2019
Courtesy of Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment

[This story contains spoilers through week three of CBS' Survivor: Island of the Idols.]

Survivor winners Boston Rob Mariano and Sandra Diaz-Twine have a lot of time on their hands out on the Island of the Idols, the setting and theme for the CBS reality franchise's 39th season. It's no wonder, then, that they spent an afternoon with college admissions counselor and Survivor super fan Vince Moua teaching him stealth mode tactics like… army-crawling and hiding behind palm fronds? 

Look, no two ways about it — the whole thing was strange, especially the task Rob and Sandra laid out for Vince: Infiltrate the Vokai tribe at night, steal their fire and bring back proof in order to earn an immunity idol good for the next two Tribal Councils. It was all in an effort to teach Vince how to remain calm under pressure. Consider the mission accomplished, as far as Vince winning the idol. Sadly, Rob and Sandra didn't teach Vince how to sense pressure in the midst of an otherwise calm situation — because one night after completing the trial-by-fire task, he was voted out of the game, idol virtually in hand.

"There's never been anybody like Vince, ever," executive producer and host Jeff Probst told The Hollywood Reporter heading into the season. "I can't imagine there'll ever be anybody like Vince again. I hope Vince isn't first out. He's the only person I've ever met who truly has two distinct personalities, or personas, I guess is better. He has this 'homeboy,' as he says, and then the other guy who works in college admission and is upstanding and speaks differently. I mean, he sounds like a different person! He's like an improv guy. He can just go in and out of any story. I don't know where the 'homeboy' part of him is going to come into play with this group, but it might. He might find a younger person maybe that connects with it or maybe there's some weird connection with somebody like [Tom] Laidlaw, who thinks this is charming. I don't know. But he's a smart guy. I think he'll be underestimated because he's just peculiar to be around. But his biggest strength is that he knows he's peculiar and he's been through so much. When you talk to him about the way he was raised, I don't think you're going to shock him with anything. I don't think he'll be unsettled by anything. But I do think he can be reactionary, and that could hurt him in the end."

In the end, Vince's problem was that he wasn't reactionary enough — but in the exit interview ahead, he explains why he wanted to hang onto his soon-to-expire immunity idol, plus much more from his visit with Rob and Sandra and his view of the Lairo tribe dynamics.

Vince, talk us through your final days in the game, beginning with learning you were being summoned to Island of the Idols. Did you have any theories about it yet, or did everyone take Elizabeth at her word?

At that point, I was like, "I do not need to be doing this. Can I give up the visit to somebody else?" (Laughs.) I didn't want to be away from camp. There were some things happening I felt I needed to triage in case they happened. We didn't know what was happening at Island of the Idols. When Elizabeth came back, I was on a walk, unfortunately, so I didn't hear the story firsthand from her until later on. But [when we did talk] I was like, "Homegirl, you came home smelling like smoke." And at that point, we did not have smoke yet, so something must have happened. But at that point in time, I was so gung-ho about getting Ronnie out that we didn't bother too much with Elizabeth. We probably should have inquired more about what happened. But I did not want to go. I did not know what was going to happen there.

When you arrive at the island, you have a very big reaction to seeing Rob and Sandra. What was racing through your mind? Was it even a possibility for you that you might see some familiar faces out there? 

In my wildest dreams, I would not have imagined Rob and Sandra being on our season to help support us through it. I wish I could tell you I had been thinking, "Oh yeah, that was definitely an option." (Laughs.) When I get there, the two busts are there, and then the two of them come out, and I'm stunned speechless. I have to compose myself, because I'm about to cry. I watched them growing up. I watched Sandra win two seasons as a strong woman of color. She came out there and was totally herself. She was totally loyal to the people who were loyal to her. She's always been someone whose tenacity and her will to persevere, even though she's been the underdog? It's something I've taken with me throughout my life. I think when super-fans of Survivor think about Survivor, or at least for me, Survivor has changed the ways in which I understand how I want to live my life. As a poor kid, we didn't have cable. CBS was free. Survivor was the place that showed me you can be more than your community says you can be. You can think about flying in an airplane to different countries, you can think about challenging yourself. That's the way I've lived my life, and that's based on Survivor. Seeing two of the biggest and most well-known players out there — seeing Sandra out there — I just couldn't contain myself.

Rob and Sandra present you with the opportunity to infiltrate the Vokai tribe at night, come back with fire and win an idol for your efforts. It doesn't quite go that cleanly, even if it's ultimately a success. Talk us through it, front to back.

So much happened. (Laughs.) The first thing that happened was me saying, "Yo, this is a big-ass mission. This is basically Mission: Impossible, and I need to make it Mission: Vincepossible, because I need this advantage in my life right now." I took it without hesitation. I didn't know if I could negotiate. I did ask what the other people had done before, because this was a big ass challenge, and for an immunity idol only? I don't know. But they told me whatever happens on IoI stays on IoI, so, okay, cool, let's just take the challenge then. I'm here to play the game. I didn't come out here not to challenge myself. Let's just do it. Let's risk it for the biscuit. Let's get it, let's go.

We start preparing for the plan — all the stealth — and as I'm starting to leave the island, getting toward the boat, we see a storm start rolling in. We thought it was going to be fine and dandy, that it was going to end, but it did not. I was like, "Yo, if they didn't cover their fire? It's going to be dead. I won't be able to bring back anything. I might have to steal their flint and make fire on the beach before getting on the boat to come back." But with that, you don't know what the flint is. It can be anywhere. I was hoping they had covered their fire pit and they had a fire going. So, off we go.

Here's the thing about Fiji: It's pitch black out there. You can't see in front of your hands. There I am, just slipping and sliding in the mud, legit slipping and sliding my way in the back of the camp. When I get there, I realize their fire's out, because there's no light. The only thing that showed me what was happening in the surrounding area was the lightning flashing. Eventually, I got to those trees, and I started hiding behind them and taking Sandra's advice. When I was watching the episode, though? I didn't even know I was that close to them. The fire was a couple feet away from the shelter — six or seven feet from their shelter — but I couldn't see anything. I saw a small outline of the top of their shelter, and started feeling around, and then my hands hit the side of a table and I looked down and saw shells: "This must be where they eat stuff!"

I found the fire pit eventually. I had made a little shovel out of bamboo that I had stepped on. I was just going to shovel out coals and embers, initially. I was going to collect hot burning embers in my canister, run off and pour them onto my torch and light the torch that way. But because everything was dead, there was nothing left except for the ashes. You can start fires with coals and other methods, so I hoped that would be fine. But the Survivor gods gifted me with rain that night, and you just have to do what you can under those circumstances. I was told if anyone stirred, I would lose my vote. Luckily, when I was there, none of that happened. So I just got the things real fast, shoved 'em in and ran off — still slipping and sliding on the way out. 

It's enough to earn the idol, and then next we see you, you're at the challenge with your tribe. Were you dropped off at the challenge, or did we miss your homecoming back at the beach?

I was dropped off at the beach. Immediately, Elizabeth was one of the first people to greet me. Other people came up, too, so I told her we could talk in a bit. I told them all that I had an overnight challenge where I had to memorize five sets of a puzzle. Each set had five different animals that I had to memorize the order they were placed in. I believe the animals were a salamander, a crab, a shark, a bat and … I forget. A stingray?

Is this The Masked Singer or Survivor, Vince? You have the wrong show!

But that challenge has been done before, right? You need to memorize the order of animals on plates. So, I said that would be fine. I had to memorize five sets in two hours, and then I had the night to find the stations across the island and put them in order, but I couldn't do it. I lost, and then I had to sleep outside without shelter. That's what I told the entire tribe.

Here's what I told my core alliance of Elaine, Missy and Elizabeth: I crocodile cried to them and told them I had lost my vote, on top of having to sleep outside. I told them I wanted to get an advantage for all of us. At that time, we thought we were going to swap soon, as is the case on Survivor most of the time. I wanted to play this so we could get an advantage for our alliance moving forward. Now that I don't have a vote, all of the women have to vote the same way. 

I hoped saying that would allow Elizabeth to think, "Oh, wow, yeah, homeboy is telling the truth, because he lost his vote." I figured it was something she would have gone through, too. But at that point in time, I didn't have enough time to ponder what happened with Elizabeth. Eventually, we did talk. I told her it was a great time for us to align even more closely because both of us were the only ones who knew what happened out on IoI. If we get a chance to choose who's going to go, we can choose each other. Elizabeth was like: "Yeah, that sounds great. Wonderful that you're thinking that way. I'm also on the same page." It was a brief conversation before we had to go off to the challenge.

Lairo loses the challenge, you're facing another Tribal Council, you believe Tom's the target, but it's ultimately you. You must have felt pretty safe to not play your idol. What happened?

Here's a thing that wasn't shown: The women's alliance was not as strong as what it's being shown to be. I would say I was the glue keeping everyone together. "We have to stick together, y'all! They're going to vote us out!" The big alpha males were not going to be loyal to us. We had to stick together. I was loyal to the women on day two already. Even with the Ronnie vote-out, there's a reason he has all of those feelings toward me and why my name came up: I was very much so involved in leading that blindside. 

When we got back from the challenge, I had been gunning for Aaron already. But I couldn't get anyone on the same page. They thought Aaron was a physical asset. But he doesn't volunteer for stuff. You're not an asset to me if you're not volunteering for things. I couldn't get people to turn on Aaron. Tom was the next target. After the first vote, I knew Tom didn't have my back. I tried splitting that first vote on Aaron and Ronnie, because I was afraid they had an idol. If they played it, it was going to be either myself or Elaine going home, and Tom would not budge. Tom was a difficult person to work with. He was very set with what he wanted to do. For me, that wasn't good for my game. I could tell he was getting antsy around me, maybe because Aaron was talking to him a bit more. As I said on the show, Tom was getting tired a lot, very fatigued. I was worried about his stamina, generally. I thought I rallied all the ladies to get their votes on Tom.

Heading into Tribal Council, with the idol… I wanted to save it, just in case we were swapped into a minority situation. I was totally willing to use my idol in order to make sure my allies stayed in the game. I had a whole scheme about how to do that. I felt I was overthinking [any danger I was in]. There was a point where I heard Jeff's voice in my head: "Eighteenth person voted out: Vince." Prior to coming out, my parents told me, "Listen to your spirits, son! Listen to your shaman spirits!" And I was like, "Is this [voice] my shaman spirit, or am I just being paranoid? Yo, I'm just being paranoid. It's all good. We've got the numbers, there's no need to worry."

When my vote for Tom was read, I knew I was in trouble. I was just like: "Ah, damn it! No! I'm so screwed!" Because if the women all voted Tom, they wouldn't have to read my vote. When my vote came out, the one I wrote Tom on? I knew something was wrong. I realized at that point it was going south.

How many sleepless nights since then?

Look, I got over it relatively quickly. When I came into the game, I said I wanted to work with women. I wanted to get to the end with strong women of color. I said I wanted to work with underrepresented people. It just so happens those were the people who flipped on me. But I came out there with a purpose to create a platform to talk more about these communities and let young folk know that they can be more than what their communities say they are. I came out here to do a job. It would have been wonderful to get the million dollars and the title, but I was out there for the communities I represented. I did more out there than some of the people who got [further in the game]. I led a blindside, I did all of these crazy things at camp, I found an island, I explored another island. I pulled off Mission: Basically Impossible. I was pretty satisfied with what had happened. I would've liked to work with the people on Vokai. I think I would've connected well with Lauren, Kellee, Janet and Jamal. Unfortunately, it just didn't work out.

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